This article, written by Alexandra O’Shaughnessy-Tredwell, from Meadows Ryan- one of our trusted family law firms- answers questions on the topic of, “Separation and Children”, including “What happens if my ex-partner and I can’t agree on child custody arrangements?”
What happens if my ex-partner and I can’t agree on child custody arrangements?
One of the hardest parts of separation can often be the animosity and difficulty it can create in trying to agree on child custody arrangements. For example, as parents, you will need to agree where the children will live, and how frequently they will spend time with the other parent. If parents cannot come to an aligned position on child custody, it can expose the children to acrimonious situations and can potentially lead to psychological harm.
This article will take you through the potential pathways to agreeing child custody arrangements, whilst continuing to maintain a healthy co-parenting relationship.
The term ‘Parental responsibility’ is used a lot in child custody proceedings, but what does it mean?
Parental Responsibility encapsulates the legal rights and responsibilities a parent has in respect of their children. All mothers are automatically granted parental responsibility at birth and most fathers assume parental responsibility through marriage or via signing the birth certificate. ‘Parental responsibility’ does not mean that you have the right to spend time with your child, but it does mean that the other parent must take into account your view when making key decisions (not routine decisions) about the lives of any shared children. An example of a key life decision may be the changing of school or relocating abroad.
So, what happens if you both hold parental responsibility, but cannot agree on child custody arrangements?
At present, the government is running a Family Mediation Voucher Scheme where, if eligible, the government will offer £500.00 for a family to attend mediation so as to try to avoid entering court proceedings. If you are not eligible for the government scheme, it is still favourable to have engaged with mediation as a first step as it shows willing to come to an agreement. Our Family Lawyer and Partner at Meadows Ryan, Christian Abletshauser is a member of Resolution and a trained Collaborative Lawyer. Christian’s primary objective would be to look for a fair and prompt solution, rather than immediately referring the matter to Court. Proposals or recommendations within mediation are not legally binding, however at the end of mediation you can convert these proposals into a legally binding agreement or a court order.
If mediation is unsuccessful, arbitration could be your next step. Arbitration is another form of alternative dispute resolution which again, can be used prior to embarking upon court proceedings. Arbitration allows parents more flexibility and provides a less formal setting than court proceedings, which can often be beneficial to a co-parenting relationship in the long term. Arbitration is also often less costly, and decisions made in Arbitration are legally binding which some parents find reassuring.
In some cases where parents simply cannot agree child custody by alternative means, court proceedings may be the only method of resolution. Although it can be very daunting and costly, court proceedings are very effective in providing a legally binding decision that has been carefully considered by a Judge having heard from a witness and third parties. Once a court order is made, this must be adhered to by both parents, whether a parent feels it is in their favour or not. If child custody arrangements are not followed, a parent could run the risk of having enforcement action brought against them by the other parent.
There are some law firms that accept Legal Aid cases. Legal Aid is money provided by the Government to cover legal costs for people who cannot afford them. Legal Aid is means tested and eligibility is extremely narrow. There are, however, other ways of financing your legal fees which if required, can be discussed and explored with any solicitor you may wish to instruct.
The above guidance and advice accounts for situations where you do not feel in fear or at risk of Domestic violence or emotional abuse. If you are at risk/in fear of your ex-partner, then Women’s Aid provide a free advice helpline for women and can be contacted on 0808 2000 247 or the Men’s Advice Line provides a free advice line for men and can be contacted on 0808 801 0327. These organisations can provide help and guidance on your next step and refer you to a legal aid funded firm. Our lawyers in the Meadows Ryan Family Department are also trained to deal with Domestic violence and Harassment, please feel assured that your correspondence with us would be dealt with, with the upmost confidentiality.
Christian Abletshauser and Jodie Care are the point of contact for our family department, they can help with providing advice and guidance on child custody arrangements. They are also highly experienced in other relationship and family matters such as: Pre and post nuptial agreements, Financial Ancillary Relief, Separation, Domestic Violence and Harassment. To contact them for advice or help, you can either call Meadows Ryan on 01932 852 057 or email [email protected]
Alexandra O’Shaughnessy-Tredwell joined Meadows Ryan in July 2021 following her role at a National Law Firm undertaking predominantly family law matters. Alexandra is a paralegal, working within the family, litigation and immigration teams. Alexandra has completed her LLB and is currently studying for her LPC and LLM. Outside of work, Alexandra enjoys running organised half marathons, dog walks and having friends over for dinner.